On a Biblical Understanding of Marriage
As the church finds its governance and guide in the steadfast words of Scripture, so do these same Scriptures serve to inform one of the true biblical and evangelical understanding of holy matrimony. Couples desiring to unite themselves in the bonds of marriage ought to understand this biblical view of the marriage relationship. (Eph. 5:22–33) As such, it is understood that a faithful, biblical understanding of marriage will suffuse one with the knowledge of the significance of marriage, the sanctity of marriage, and the strength of marriage as ordained by God.
One can see the significance of marriage as one sees marriage as a covenant. The Scriptures inform one of God’s institution and definition of marriage as strictly being one man and one woman joined in covenantal union. Whereas many secular intellectuals and theorists have re-defined marriage as a construct of societal norms, which move and evolve with an ever-changing, adaptive culture, God’s Word imbues one with the resolute understanding that marriage is God’s idea. One finds the genesis for marriage not in mankind’s historical conventions for such a union but in the bowels of God’s Person. (Gen. 1:26–28) As God saw Adam alone and without a partner in his likeness, God fashions a “help meet” for Adam out of Adam’s side, which accentuates the complementary roles with which God instills in the genders from creation. (Gen. 2:18–23) The man and woman longing to unite themselves in marriage must see that the very design, desire, and destiny for marriage is not what the culture propagates, rather, it is given and ordained by God himself. It is God’s gift to both genders that they cleave to one another in unashamed union. (Gen 2:24–25) As the husband and wife enter this covenantal relationship, they pledge to God and others the fidelity of their love and the indissoluble ties that bind them together. (Mal. 2:14–16)
Scripture, furthermore, upholds the sanctity of marriage. It attests and asserts that God’s command for intimate sexual activity reserves its pleasures for those bound in a biblical and covenantal, monogamous and heterosexual marriage relationship. (Gen. 2:24–25; Mark 10:6–9) Any perversion of this design, therefore — such as pornography, fornication, adultery, homosexuality, lesbianism, and transgenderism — is rejected and reckoned as sinful, wicked, and detestable distortions of God’s gift of human sexuality. (Lev. 18:1–30; Rom. 1:26–29; 1 Cor. 5:1; 6:9–10; Eph. 5:22–23; 1 Thess. 4:3; Heb. 13:4) As marriage is God’s idea and gift for mankind, so is sexual intimacy part of this gift, made for those who are in covenantal union to enjoy with each other. (1 Cor. 7:1–6; Song 4:1–16) On that account, therefore, one understands the dignity, fidelity, and glory of the sexual relationship, whose creator is God. As the Colorado Statement on Biblical Sexual Morality affirms, it was the Lord’s objective for sexual activity “to be physically enjoyable, emotionally satisfying, psychologically fulfilling, and spiritually meaningful because he delights in the joys and pleasures of his creatures.” Accordingly, he is not against sex altogether, rather, he is against its abuse. The pride and wickedness of man has inverted the divine order for sex, placing the physical pleasure and gratification of marital intimacy in the throes of relationships that are bound by nothing but the whims of “in-the-moment” individuals which change with the wind. In covenantal union, however, the husband and wife are free to find comfort, contentment, and the crystallization of commitment in the sexual relationship that God designed for marriage. (Gen. 1:26–28; 24:67; Prov. 5:18–19) The inversion and perversion of sexual intimacy in marriage is what naturally leads to the rupturing of marriages.
Lastly, Scripture affirms that the strength of marriage is the undying love and unabating affection which God has for it. (1 Cor. 13) The biblical bond of the husband and wife is considerably deeper and stronger than the modern attitude towards marriage. Whereas many suggest that marriage be “regarded as a contract,” the Christian understands that “it is more than a contract.” (Woolsey, 235–236) Indeed, much more; it is a covenant. When God gives the command for the husband and wife to “cleave unto” one another (Gen. 2:24), God invites them to delight in this cleaving, knowing it to be the inseparable cord that binds them together. The matrimonial covenant between a man and woman is such that when they are “joined to one another,” they are “so closely connected they cannot be separated.” (Job 41:15–17) This is God’s design and purpose for marriage.
In his Essay on Divorce and Divorce Legislation, American academic and then President of Yale College, Theodore D. Woolsey comments on the historical and theological understandings and argumentation for divorce and marriage, remarking that “it is the state of life in which two have become one flesh, it is a state founded by God at the first creation of man, it is therefore a union made by divine authority which human authority may not sever.” (57) It is understood, then, that there are, indeed, certain grounds and circumstances in which divorce is lawful and, in fact, biblical. (Matt. 19:1–9; 1 Cor. 7:15) However, these grounds are the fruits of sin and were never the design of God. Neither are they to be sought after if the marriage relationship sours or suffers hardship. Rather, the inviolable union of matrimony obligates one to seek reconciliation and “exhaust all efforts to procure the return” and reparation of the relationship. (Ochsenford, 391) (1 Cor. 7:11) Whereas many secularists, seeing marriage merely as a contract in which can be found facile grounds to be breached, determine marital crises as excuses to disavow what was formerly pledged, one understands that marital conflict is part of the will of God for their lives. His purpose is to draw the husband and wife together as he draws them to himself. As marriage is a covenant made in the eyes of God, one ought to consider in a right, biblical manner the consequences for the severing of such a covenant. (Hosea 4:10) Mankind loses the the seriousness and significance of marriage as it weakens the sanctity of marriage in twisted and distorted debauchery.
One is, therefore, bound by Scripture to uphold the beauty and blessedness of matrimony, understanding it to be the most “sacred and mysterious ordinance of God, whereby two persons are indissolubly bound together until death.” (Lea, 3:4) The husband and wife in covenantal marriage unite themselves not merely in body but in being. (Gen. 2:24; Mark 10:8) “They are united together as the God-man is united with the Church.” (Thébaud, 418) They are knit together so as to serve one another, and the world, as representatives and extensions of the eternal covenant of God with man, which was made from before the foundation of the world. (Jer. 31:31–34; Eph. 1:3–6) “The true marriage covenant is the earthly analogue of the covenant between God and humanity, and enshrines in a wonderful but most practical manner the image of the mutual obligations of that marvelous grace.” (Lea, 3:4) It is thus that one understands the essence of biblical, covenantal marriage as that which brings untold glory to the gospel of God.
John Walter Lea, “The Sanctity of Marriage,” Studies in Modern Problems, edited by Orby Shipley (London: King & Co., 1874).
S. E. Ochsenford, Documentary History of the General Council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in North America (Philadelphia: General Council Publication, 1912).
Augustus J. Thébaud, The Church and the Moral World: Considerations on the Holiness of the Church (New York: Benziger Bros., 1881).
Theodore D. Woolsey, Essay on Divorce and Divorce Legislation (New York: Scribner & Co., 1869).